Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Letter Mail : Switzerland and France

The Project
Postal agreements prior to the General Postal Union/Universal Postal Union in 1875 were highly diverse, though they show increased uniformity over time from 1850 to 1875 in Europe.  This post focuses on letter mail between Switzerland and France.  

Originally Posted: April 15, 2018
Reposted: Dec 5, 2018
Last edited: Dec 7, 2018

Organization of this Post
  • Postal Arrangements
  • Switzerland to France Prepaid Rates
  • Border Crossings
  • France to Switzerland Prepaid Rates
  • Border Mail 
  • Unpaid Letter Rates 
  • Resources
*-Postal Arrangements: Switzerland and France
The Swiss Confederation came into being in 1848, but it took some time to develop new arrangements beyond the individual agreements that various cantons had adhered to prior to this point.

Postal Convention of November 25, 1849
The convention was completed in November, but it was not until April of the following year that the convention was ratified by both parties.  On first glance, reading the document in the convention resource #1 at the end of this post, I find no specific mention of an active date.  It may be there, but I have not found it yet.  Literature suggests the July 1, 1850 date.

Convention of 1849
Article III Article V TBA
Article III setting the weight of simple letters (7.5 grams)

First part of Article V setting the postage rate at 40 centimes.

Click on the text image to see a larger version.

Postal Convention of March 22, 1865
This was ratified in Paris on August 14 of the same year.  If a person reads the first convention and then immediately reads the second convention, it becomes clear how much more comfortable nations were in developing postal agreements.  Resources number 2 at the end of this post includes a link to the full text of this agreement (in French, of course).

Article III fixing the new rate of postage and weights.

*-Prepaid Letter Rates Switzerland to France

Prepaid Letter Rates - Switzerland to France
Effective Date Rate Unit
see * about prior rates

Jul 1, 1850 40 rappen/centimes 7.5 grams
Oct 1, 1865 30 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1876 (GPU) 30 centimes 15 grams
May 1, 1878 (UPU) 25 centimes 15 grams
Oct 1, 1907 (UPU) 25 ctm / 15 ctm 15 g / add'l 15 g
* Switzerland was "unified" in 1848.  The 1849 convention is the first such between France and the new government.  Prior to this, postal agreements depended on the canton.

40 centimes per 7.5 grams - Jul 1, 1850- Sep 30, 1865
It is a bit more difficult to find clean, but relatively inexpensive items that illustrate the earlier rate from Switzerland to France simply because most of the material features the Strubel series of stamps versus the Seated Helvetia.  The Strubels tend to command higher prices and are also in shorter supply, though they are not rare.  I suspect some patience will reward me with opportunities to explore this rate via the later series and perhaps I'll sneak out a Strubel or three on cover at some point.  This is a case where I am more interested in rates and routes than I am the philatelic aspect.

Basel Crossing - St Louis Exchange Office

Basel Oct 31, 1864  (Bad Bahnpost)
Suisse St Louis Nov 1, 1864
Lyon Nov 2, 1864

7 A-E-D (see below)
St Louis is located just across the border from Basel in France.  My preliminary guess is that Saint Louis exchange markings seem to apply to mail items that are either for Saint Louis OR for greater (eastern) France.  Mulhouse and Strasbourg would seem to be more for the regional destinations.  This item would likely have headed by Rail to Dijon and then south to Lyon.

The Bad Bahnpost marking reveals another interesting historical aspect.  Baden and Switzlerland entered a treaty agreement on July 27, 1852.  This allowed for the development of a railway station that would be run by the Baden rail on Swiss soil in Basel.  A simple history exists on wikipedia that can serve as a starting point until better references can be located and read.  Thus it seems that this item was posted either at the station OR on the train.

The 7 A-E-D marking found on the front of this cover seems to be an artifact from much earlier postal procedures in France.  AED = Affranchi a l'Etranger jusqu'a Destination (Foreign mail paid to destination)  The numeral ('7') indicated the exchange office.  According to Abensur's book, we know Antibes was "1," Grenoble was "6," Pont-de-Beauvoisin was "9" and Lyon was "15."  I have yet to discover what corresponds with "7."  It seems odd that this particular item has a plethora of paid markings.  There are two differnt "P.D." markings applied.  It seems fairly obvious by inking and placement that the boxed PD was applied on the mobile post office on the Baden Bahnpost train.  The 7 AED marking looks like the same ink as the St Louis exchange marking, so I would not be surprised to learn that "7" stands for St Louis.  The final P.D. marking could have been applied in Lyon or on the train from St Louis to Lyon.  Regardless, it seems the agents felt a great need to indicate this item was paid more than once.  Sometimes it's good to be thorough, I guess.

30 centimes per 10 grams - Oct 1,1865-Dec 31, 1875
For the purposes of looking at markings and identifying routes, it seems that covers from 1865-1868 are best for this rate period.  The standard Paris "Etranger" marking starts to appear more often in 1869 and later, which leaves us guessing where the mail might have traveled.

Geneva Crossing - Marseilles Ambulant Office

Zurich Jun 13, 1866
Geneve Jun 14 66 (verso)
Geneve - Sion - Geneve Jun 14 66 (verso)
Suisse Amb Marseilles Jun 14 66
Marseilles Jun 15 66 (verso)
The Ambulant Marseilles markings confuse me a little since I have an item crossing the Italian border that also shows an Ambulant Marseilles exchange marking.  Of course, they are delineated by Suisse versus Italie at the top of the marking dial.  Was there a particular segment of rail that hosted an Ambulant post office for Marseilles or was there more than one such segment?  At this time, the Bellegarde crossing was most likely to be used for mails to Marseilles and southern France.  I could see St Julien used for the county of Nice.

Basel Crossing - Mulhouse Exchange

Zurich May 7, 1868
Basel May 8 68 (verso)
Suisse Mulhouse May 8 68

The item above would have taken the same rail line from Basel as the item with the Saint Louis exchange marking.  However, the Mulhouse destination made sense for it to depart the train at this point.  It is likely Mulhouse only processed mail for its surrounding area, but I have no confirmation of that at this time.

This item just might be my favorite Swiss item in my collection at this time.  It is visually attractive with remarkably clear postal markings.

*-Border Crossings and Exchange Offices

Article I of the 1849 Convention
This part of the convention leaves it open for the creation of new exchange locations when judged "necessary."  It is possible addendums to this convention exist that list these newly created exchange pairings.  Though it is more likely that the postal administrations were given the power to figure it out on their own.  In other words, I would need to find postal documents that indicate new crossings rather than treaty type documents.  A similar list is NOT noted in the 1865 convention, it was likely assumed that this was no longer a detail necessary for a treaty/convention article.

The 1849 convention list of exchange offices were as follows from North to South (French location - Swiss location):
  1. Saint-Louis - Basel
  2. Delle - Porentruy (local mail - SE of Montbeliard)
  3. Miache - Seignelegier (local mail - E of Besancon)
  4. Morteau - les Brenets (local mail - N of Verrieres)
  5. Pontarlier - les Verrieres
  6. Pontarlier - Sainte Croix (local mail - S of les Verrieres)
  7. Jougne - Ballaigue (local mail - half way between Verrieres and Geneve)
  8. les Rousses - Saint Cergue (local mail - N of Geneve)
  9. Ferney - Geneva (west of Geneve)

Roger Heath has been kind enough to share exchange markings he has observed in his Switzerland collection in the period of 1862 to 1881.  In combination with period maps and markings he has shared and I have observed, these are my conclusions until I can find and read additional primary source materials.

Basel - St Louis Crossing:
The Paris to Basel rail lines carried a significant amount of correspondence.   The Paris to Basel (Bale) provided fast service between the two cities and this mail train carried foreign mails from England (and points beyond) which were funneled through Paris and on to Calais or, potentially, direct to Calais.

Bradshaw's Monthly Guide May 1866
French exchange markings that could be associated with this crossing would be:
   Suisse St Louis (seen above), Suisse Mulhouse (seen above)

Mulhouse was the location for the rail line split either towards Strasbourg or Dijon.  According to Bradshaw's Handbooks, trains to Basel (Bale) would have either gone through Strasbourg or via Troyes and coming in just North of Monteliard on its way to Mulhouse.

The different exchange offices likely handled different destinations within France.  Clearly, the Mulhouse exchange marking works for the Mulhouse destination above.  I wonder if items for Paris and points to the north and west of Paris might actually have a Paris exchange marking.  Destinations to the south, towards Dijon, seem to have Saint Louis markings.

Verrieres de Suisse Crossing:

Pontarlier on the French side of the border is clearly the largest settlement in the area.  Neuchatel or La Chaux-de-Fonds are relatively close on the Swiss side.    Significant mail volumes, including foreign mails seem to flow through this crossing.

French exchange markings for this area:
     Suisse Pontarl D A Besancon, Suisse Pontarlier, Suisse Amb Besancon

It is possible that the Am Besancon marking could be from a train coming from the Montbeliard border crossing once Alsace became a part of Germany. In fact, it would make sense to expand this section with a post Franco-Prussian War description of border crossings and changes made to accommodate new borders.

Geneva - Bellegarde Crossing:
The Bellegarde crossing from Geneva would seem to be the favored routing for mails in the Southern France from Marseilles westward.  It seems possible that the different ambulant markings for Marseilles could indicate different border crossings and/or different time periods.  It is also not unlikely that some identification for train, work crew, etc are also in some of these markings.

French exchange markings for this area:
     Suisse Lyon, various Amb. Marseilles markings (one seen above), Suisse Bellegarde

Geneva - Annenosse Crossing:
This crossing seems to service northern Savoy.  Being in the Alps, more crossings would be needed to reach the destinations in the area.

French exchange markings for this crossing:
     Suisse Cluses, Suisse Bonneville

Geneva - St Julien Crossing:
The St Julien crossing heads south and appears to connect to the Mt Cenis railway.  This traveling exchange office was probably intended to service the communities around that mountain pass railway, such as Lanslebourg.

French exchange markings for this crossing:
     Suisse Annecy, Suisse Amb M. Cenis

Lake of Geneva Crossing:
Thonon is located on the South shore of Lake Geneva.  A rail line was developed along that south shore from Geneva to Martigny (approximately), but this may have been either a lake steamer or carriage route exchange prior to rail development. I believe there are some highly developed specialized collections that exist on this topic area (Alps Lake Steamers).

French exchange marking: Suisse Thonon

French exchange markings with uncertain crossings:
     Suiss Dijon (probably Pontarlier),  various Marseilles markings, Suisse Amb. Marseilles 3, Amb Marseille II Suisse, Suisse Ambulant Marseille G

*-Prepaid Rates France to Switzerland

Prepaid Letter Rates - Belgium to France 
Effective Date Rate Unit
* differs by canton prior
Jul 1, 1850  40 centimes 7.5 grams
Oct 1, 1865  30 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1876 (GPU)  30 centimes 15 grams
May 1, 1878 (UPU)  25 centimes 15 grams
Oct 1, 1907 (UPU)  25 ctm / 15 ctm 15 g / add'l 15 g

* Switzerland was "unified" in 1848.  The 1850 convention seems to be the first such between France and the new government.  Prior to this, postal agreements depended on the canton.

40 centimes per 7.5 grams : Jul 1, 1850 - Sep 30, 1865

Basel or Geneve? entry

Le Havre May 20, 1857
Le Havre A Paris May 20, 1857 (verso)
Paris May 21, 1857 (verso)
Geneve May 22, 1857  5S (verso)

The markings do not give any real help on the border crossing other than than showing Paris and Geneve markings that probably served as the exchange offices. Since this item was funneled through Paris, it actually seems more likely that it took established train service to Basel and continued by train in Switzerland given the two day transit from origin to destination.

30 centimes per 10 grams : Oct 1, 1865 - Dec 31, 1875

Geneva (Bellegarde) entry to Switzerland
Marseilles A Lyon Jan 13 1866
     ML1 rail marking
Sion - Geneve - Sion Jan 14 66 T.7 (verso)
Bern Jan 14 66 (verso)
Thun Jan 15 66 Vormittag (verso)

The Thun marking is of interest as it includes the word "vormittag," which would indicate "morning" mail service or arrival.  This would make sense given the Sion-Geneva markings of the previous day.

Unlike France, Switzerland did not necessarily seem to have a set of specific exchange markings for incoming foreign mail.  At least they do not follow the same patterns.  However, they do tend to show more evidence of the rail lines taken to get to their destination within Switzerland.

Pontarlier entry to Switzerland
Le Havre Apr 2 69
   1769 (lozenge cancel)
Paris Etranger Apr 3 (verso)
Pontarlier N Berne Apr 4 69 (verso)
Verrieres Apr 4 69 (verso)
The Paris "Etranger" marking seems to make it's appearance in the late 1860's and becomes the most common 'exchange' marking as we enter the 1870's for mail.  It was becoming less important for the mail route to be identified on the individual pieces of mail and all that was needed was an indication that the item was not a domestic mail piece, nothing more.  One can consider this, in part, a nod towards the increasingly reliable modes of transportation.  When transportation was less reliable and a good bit slower, it was more important to use transit marks to provide some sort of proof of conveyance that showed the effort to be efficient in mail transport had been made.

25 ctms per 15 gms  : May 1, 1878 - Sep 30, 1881
Paris Gare du Nord Jul 18 79
     Gare du Nord train station in Paris
Ambulant Jul 19 79 (verso)
     Swiss Traveling Post Office
Geneve, Switzerland

The above is a standard UPU (Universal Postal Union) Group 1 letter rate example.  The UPU did recognize that some destinations required more expense for mail to reach them than others.  Hence destinations were placed into "groups" for rating purposes.

It is possible that the Swiss receiving marking might have clues regarding routing and border crossings, but that is beyond the scope of my studies.

*-Border Mail

Border Letter Rates - France to Switzerland and vice versa**
Effective Date Rate Unit
Jul 1, 1850 20 centimes/rappen 7.5 grams
Oct 1, 1865 20 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1876 - Jun 30,1892 20 centimes 15 grams

** for mail that crosses the border and distance is 30 km or less from origin post office to destination post office

*-Unpaid Mail

Unpaid Letter Rates - France to Switzerland and vice versa***
Effective Date Rate Unit
Oct 1, 1865 50 centimes 10 grams
Oct 1, 1865 - border 30 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1876 60 centimes 15 grams
Jan 1, 1876-border 40 centimes 15 grams
May 1, 1878 50 centimes 15 grams
Apr 1, 1886- border 30 centimes 15 grams
*** prior to 1865, the unpaid rate was the same as the prepaid rate

The unpaid mail is provided for completeness.  I am not as interested in collecting stampless items, so it is unlikely I will expand upon this since most of my work is motivated by items in my collection.

  1.  De Clercq, M, "Recueil des Traites de la France,"  p 638 holds the 1849 postal convention.
  2.  page 207 of Volume 20 has the 1865 treaty. 
  3.  Les Tarifs Postaux Francais: Entre 1848 et 1916 by Jean-Louis Bourgouin     This has been my "go to" site for determining French rates for some time.  Data appears to be backed up by postal acts and agreements of which I have confirmed some and I hope to collect access to others as well. 
  4. Bradshaw's Monthly Continental Railway, Steam Transit and General Guide for Travelers Through Europe, May 1866
  5. Mitchell, Allan, the Great Train Race: Railways and the Franco-German Rivalary, 1815-1914, Berghan Books, 2000.  this looks like an interesting read that may also provide a bibliography to primary sources.
  6. Richardson, Derek J, "Tables of French Postal Rates 1849-2011," 4th ed, France and Colonies Philatelic Society of Great Britain, 2011.    Only useful for foreign rates from France once the General Postal Union is formed in 1875.

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